Meet Rebecca Howard, First Female Business Owner in Olympia

Rebecca Groundage was born in Philadelphia in 1827. In 1843 she married Alexander Howard. In 1859 she and her husband had moved to Olympia, WA where they opened a hotel and a restaurant which they called Pacific House.

She and her husband ran Pacific House and Restaurant from 1859 to 1866. It has been recorded that The Pacific Restaurant quickly became very popular with travelers since Mrs. Howard was an excellent cook, had a keen wit and a sharp sense of humor.

They entertained dignitaries such as Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman; and a parade of legislators and other visitors to the capital city and in 1880 she even hosted then President Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife Lucy. She was however not impressed by politicians.

Mrs. Howard was said to be stern but also a caring and giving woman. In June 1862 she and her husband signed an agreement to care for Isaac I. Stevens Glasgow. Isaac was part American Indian whose father, Thomas Glasgow, mistreated his son. In 1877 the Howards adopted Isaac and changed his name to Frank A. Howard.

After retiring Rebecca moved her family to Priest Point, outside of Olympia, and her husband was able to set up his farm. After selling Pacific House Rebecca continued to promote business endeavors in Olympia and she donated 100 acres of land to the campaign to gain a railroad terminus in the city.

While retired, Mrs. Howard continued to build her wealth by buying property. According to the tax records of 1870 there were 221 taxpayers in the Washington Territory at that time. All were men, except for Rebecca Howard whose wealth was recorded at $50,000.

In 1870, after only 4 years of retirement Rebecca opened a boarding house and then reopened the Pacific Hotel and Restaurant.

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© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Rebecca died in 1881 after suffering a stroke; she was 52. She left an estate valued at $1 million dollars.

In 2012 Rebecca Howard was honored with a mural on the south side of the building on Capitol Way where her Pacific House Hotel and Restaurant once stood. The building now houses a very popular Olympia eatery known as the Bread Peddler.

In 2012 Rebecca Howard was honored with a mural on the south side of the building on Capitol Way where her Pacific House Hotel and Restaurant once stood. The building now houses a very popular Olympia eatery known as the Bread Peddler.   © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

Yes, Rebecca Howard was not only a pioneer woman but also African American. She flourished in this part of the country at a time when not only most woman but African Americans were still dealing with the after affects of slavery and the Civil War.

Being a female business owner is tough enough. Being a female business owner, a pioneer and an African American woman should have placed major roadblocks in her path. They did nothing of the sort.

I am used to walking around cities and taking pictures of interesting things. Olympia is a city filled with murals (of which I will be writing another story) but this one mural struck me as unique and different and I wanted to learn more about the woman who stood so tall and regal on the side of this building. So I returned home and began my research.

A very long time ago there was a reporter named Paul Harvey who would tell great human interest stories about interesting people most of us had never even heard of. He always brought these people to life and he made their story larger than life, sort of like the mural of Rebecca Howard. I will end the way Paul Harvey always did when he finished telling one of his stories, by saying, ‘and now you know the rest of the story.’

Florence Lince

about.me/florencelince

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